Lot 13
  • 13

Glenn Brown

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 GBP
Log in to view results
bidding is closed


  • Glenn Brown
  • Ornamental Despair (Painting for Ian Curtis) copied from ‘The Stars Like Dust’, 1986 by Chris Foss
  • oil on canvas
  • 201 by 300cm.; 79 1/8 by 118 1/8 in.
  • Executed in 1994.


Saatchi Gallery, London

Sale: Christie's, London, Contemporary Art, 6 February 2002, Lot 133

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner


London, Rear Window at Richard Salmon, Every Now and Then, 1994

London, Saatchi Gallery, Young British Artists V: Glenn Brown, Keith Coventry, Hadrian Pigott, Kerry Stewart, 1995

Hexham, Queen's Hall Arts Centre, Glenn Brown, 1996, p. 9, no. 7, and catalogue cover, illustrated in colour

Graz, Grazer Kunstverein, Fernbedienung: does television inform the way art is made?, 1996, p. 62, illustrated in colour

London, Royal Academy of Arts; Berlin, Hamburger Bahnhof; New York, Brooklyn Museum, Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection, 2007, p. 61, illustrated in colour

Stockholm, Liljevalchs Kunsthalle; Borås, Konstmuseum, Helvete/Hell, 2011, pp. 40-41, illustrated in colour


Exhibition Catalogue, London, Serpentine Gallery, Glenn Brown, 2004, p. 101, illustrated in colour

Exhibition Catalogue, Liverpool, Tate Liverpool; Turin, Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Glenn Brown, 2009, p. 31, illustrated in colour


Colour: The colours in the catalogue illustration are fairly accurate. Condition: This work is in very good condition. There is a tiny speck of wear to the lower left corner tip. There is an extremely light rub mark to the top left extreme edge. No restoration is apparent when examined under ultraviolet light.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

A modern day incarnation of history painting at its grandest,Ornamental Despair (Painting for Ian Curtis) copied from ‘The Stars Like Dust’, 1986 by Chris Foss is a true masterpiece of Glenn Brown’s oeuvre: a magnificent exposition of a futuristic or alternate reality. Brown presents us with a fantastical image of space exploration and discovery on an epic scale, confronting the viewer with a work of breath-taking scope and visionary power in which a scene of cosmic profundity unfolds. Evoking the thrilling climax of a classic science fiction film, the current work depicts a spaceship hurtling towards a meteorite which appears suspended in the orbit of an earth-like planet below. A vast metal structure, perhaps a docking station, rises from the base of the rock, the red exoskeleton seemingly marked with the ravages of stellar detritus, whilst an impressive gas cloud or nebula swirls in the background, lit by an incandescent glow. The inky depths of the universe provide a setting of unparalleled grandeur for this titanic meeting between spaceship and any remnants of civilisation that cling to the barren outpost of rock. The result is a work of extraordinary breadth and majesty that succeeds in elevating the imagination of the onlooker firmly away from the quotidian and towards non-terrestrial realms. Brown has spoken of his fascination with the potentials of the genre: “One of the reasons I liked making the science-fiction paintings was that there was something very abstract about them. I think science fiction is an abstract space where anything can happen, really. It’s a blank canvas on which to invent what you like…” (the artist cited in: Exhibition Catalogue, London and New York, Gagosian Gallery, Glenn Brown, Three Exhibitions, 2004 – 09, p. 71).

Brown references the original source imagery of Ornamental Despair (Painting for Ian Curtis) copied from ‘The Stars Like Dust’, 1986 by Chris Foss within the work’s title, acknowledging the importance of pioneering science fiction artist, Chris Foss, as an inspiration for his own art, even going so far as to state a comparison with Vincent Van Gogh: “Chris Foss is a very inventive illustrator; I think he, like Van Gogh, changed the way I see the world. When artists create something that has never been seen before, and when their creations are so clever and such a surprising alternative to what you already know, then you can never erase their visions from your mind” (the artist in conversation with Rochelle Steiner in: Exhibition Catalogue, London, Serpentine Gallery, Glenn Brown, 2004, p. 97). Foss’ illustrations consist of giant mechanical structures floating eerily in space. Anthropomorphised computers and sparsely populated alien landscapes have featured heavily on the covers of books by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Philip K. Dick, distilling the look of science fiction for a receptive generation raised alongside the growing potentials of CGI effects in movies and the world of video-gaming. Appropriating Foss’ The Stars Like Dust, an illustration for Isaac Asimov’s novel of the same name, Brown re-invents the image on a colossal scale, utilising his remarkable technical facility with oil on canvas and endowing the scene with radiantly vibrant colours to create of work of astounding dramatic impact.

The memorable, sometimes fantastical and seemingly extraneous titles of Brown’s paintings often refer to music the artist has been inspired by: “Songs very often come into my head when I look at paintings. Music places me emotionally in a particular moment… There are songs about being sad, about being rejected in love, and about other very strong emotions. They trigger a realisation that you are part of the world, and yet an individual within it” (the artist cited in: Ibid., p. 97). Ornamental Despair (Painting for Ian Curtis) copied from ‘The Stars Like Dust’, 1986 by Chris Foss does not only pay homage to Chris Foss, but also to Ian Curtis, the lead singer of Joy Division who tragically took his own life in 1980. Brown has frequently been moved to honour Curtis in the titles of his science fiction paintings. Placing his science fiction works firmly within the context of traditional history painting, Brown has spoken of the significant influence of Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century artistic schools on the creation of Ornamental Despair (Painting for Ian Curtis) copied from ‘The Stars Like Dust’, 1986 by Chris Foss. The paintings of J.M.W. Turner and Jacques-Louis David, alongside Foss’ feats of invention, have served as a particular source of inspiration for Brown’s artistic investigations into cosmic exploration: “Those paintings refer both to the conventions of science fiction and to the spectacle of large-scale landscape or history paintings such as those by Turner or David. I like the scale and elaborate composition that a painting, as opposed to the small scale of a book illustration, can offer” (the artist cited in: Ibid., p. 99). The current lot appears to posit a contemporary version of the Sublime, the philosophical theory first articulated in the Eighteenth Century by Edmund Burke, which advocated the contemplation of natural wonders as a means to enlightenment. Brown’s presentation of heretofore unimaginable alternate universes inspires awe and astonishment in a futuristic parallel to a traveller from the Romantic era encountering the majestic beauty of the Alps for the first time, a sensation of wonder captured by German painters of the Romantic landscape tradition such as Caspar David Friedrich. Ultimately, Ornamental Despair (Painting for Ian Curtis) copied from ‘The Stars Like Dust’, 1986 by Chris Foss enables the onlooker to transcend the limitations imposed by earthly bounds through an exhilarating encounter with a painting of truly astonishing power and imagination.